Friday, March 9, 2007


As restitution case drags on, a call to boycott Coca-Cola (JTA)
NEW YORK (JTA) – For nearly three decades, Refael Bigio has struggled to recover assets taken from his family by the Egyptian government as part of the country's broad seizure of Jewish-owned property.

Bigio's grandfather had owned a factory 45 minutes from downtown Cairo in an area he describes as "prime real estate." In the 1930s the Coca-Cola Company rented space from the Bigios for its first bottling operations in Egypt. Later the Bigios opened a factory that produced bottle caps for the company.

Egypt sequestered the property in 1962 and formed a new company, the El Nasr Bottling Company, from the merger of Bigio's company and Coca-Cola's Egyptian subsidiary. The Bigios were driven from the country three years later and since 1979 have been trying to recover the property.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether an Egyptian court is the appropriate venue for Bigio's lawsuit against Coca-Cola, which has moved repeatedly to have the case dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.

Jewish refugees from Arab lands have stepped up their efforts in recent years to document the losses they suffered and to balance the narrative of Palestinian refugees with international recognition of their histories.

But the Bigio family, which now resides in Canada, enjoys certain advantages over other Jewish refugees.

For one, the Egyptian government already has decreed that the property should be returned to the family, though the order was never carried out. Bigio also is pursuing litigation against an American company that is subject to American law and vulnerable to American public opinion.

The Bigio case has also benefited from the attention of the Zionist Organization of America, which is now calling for a boycott of the company. Leonard Getz, a Coca-Cola shareholder and a Philadelphia-based national vice president of the ZOA, was rebuffed when he moved to allow company shareholders to consider a proposal on the matter at their upcoming meeting.

"Until the Bigios' case is justly and fairly resolved, we urge all Americans and all others of good will to refrain from purchasing any of Coca-Cola's products," ZOA President Morton Klein said. "When asked to name an American company that participates in and benefits from anti-Semitism, our answer should be 'Coke is it.' "

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